At the time of his passing, Kobe Bryant was, by all accounts, a wonderful husband and father. His death is tragic, for his family and fans. A period of national mourning is wholly appropriate.
Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez was suspended by her paper for tweeting about the rape case Bryant battled in 2003, hours after his death. The Post said Sonmez’s suspension came because her tweets did not “pertain” to her “coverage area,” and because her “behavior on social media is making it harder for others to do their work as Washington Post journalists.”
This is a story with many layers. Journalists should tweet less (so much less) and listen to their editors more. Another reporter wrote on Sunday that an anonymous Post employee said “the suspension was a reaction to a third tweet from Sonmez that included a screenshot of her inbox, exposing the names of some of those sending her threats.” That seems unlikely given the Post’s statements on Monday, which did not mention the exposed names, even though they would be a much less controversial excuse for punishment.
Sonmez, some may remember, leveled an allegation of sexual assault against another journalist, as documented in Reason by Emily Yoffe last August. The allegation helped destroy Jon Kaiman’s career, despite their divergent accounts of the encounter, and admittedly alcohol-impaired memories.
Sonmez could be the least credible journalist in Washington and the Post would still be wrong to suspend her over measured tweets on the rape allegation against Bryant. “Any public figure is worth remembering in their totality,” she wrote on Sunday.
That’s right. Public figures are worth remembering in their totality, and Bryant’s evolution from admitted adulterer to loving family man is an important part of his story. Indeed, to be fully appreciated, that story needs “totality.”
The post that rankled Twitter users, so many of whom were reasonably sensitive in the immediate wake of Bryant’s shocking death, included merely the text of a headline and a link. It was not a piece of commentary. It was not cruel. It did not even pass judgment. It simply recalled, like it or not, one of the most major moments in Bryant’s career.
Sonmez’s journalistic merits aside, that should be fair game. It must be fair game.
If the Post’s suspension was less of a punishment and more of a genuine review period, or a punishment rendered because Sonmez disobeyed her editors, that’s fair enough as well. But it’s worth defending Sonmez’s tweets because it really is worth remembering public figures in their “totality,” warts and all, out of respect for their alleged victims, and out of respect for the work they put into moral rehabilitation.
Reflecting on the instant recollections of Bryant’s darkest hour, my colleague John Davidson argues “that public figures are human beings with complicated lives.”
“When they manage to put their lives back together and find redemption, whether in family or faith or charity, that’s something worth noting,” he writes. “Certainly, it’s far more important than the worst thing they ever did.”
I could not agree more. Those using the rape allegation to categorically dismiss Bryant’s legacy, or define it in the negative, are wrong and participating in a deeply unhealthy exercise. That said, the 2003 case was mentioned in every major obituary I could find. In proportion, it is both fair and necessary to remember the full arc of Bryant’s career.
Sonmez’s tweet, perhaps unlike some others, was not arguing the allegation should define Bryant’s legacy. It wasn’t arguing much of anything, other than Bryant was accused of serious misconduct, and the incident is worth remembering when reflecting on his life.
As Davidson wrote, when public figures “manage to put their lives back together and find redemption, whether in family or faith or charity, that’s something worth noting.” But in order to appreciate the “back together” part, we have to remember what was broken. Done respectfully and in proportion, that’s a process well-worth defending. It makes the arc of Bryant’s life all the more powerful.